Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Gnostic Nostalgia

"The more things change the more things remain the same..." so the old saw goes. Ever since last post I've been spending extra time reading several of the Nag Hammdi texts including the newly translated Gospel of Judas.

There is nothing new in this gospel--well, except the fact that Judas is the one who appears to be Jesus' favorite to receive true knowledge. In the Gospel of Thomas it was Thomas who received such knowledge. It's rather amazing how many of Jesus' disciples were singled out for exclusive revelation (e.g., James, the Just, John, Mary Magdalene). You would think from reading Judas that the others were total morons and buffoons. But if you read Thomas, you'd think he was the only receptive follower. It becomes clear that the writers identify themselves as one of Jesus' important followers as an attempt for legitimacy.

It is telling that the four gospels of the New Testament do not name their authors. The titles are additions added later. In Matthew's gospel, Matthew does not figure prominently, in Mark's gospel we read no mention of Mark. Luke is not named in his gospel. The author of John does refer to himself but in rather obscure ways. It is as if the authors of these gospels wanted only Jesus to shine. They didn't need to name themselves to gain credibility.

There is a reason why the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were accepted into the canon while the others were not. It isn't because there was some vast pontifical conspiracy. These books were already accepted by the general Christian population by the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 A. D. All one needs to do is read these gospels and compare them. The quality is distinctive.[1]

Unfortunately, people prefer to read someone else's opinions about the Bible and about these "lost gospels" than they are willing to read the actual texts themselves. We live in a world of USA Today and bite size news releases. Too many have no patience with the hard work of reading. There is also the tendency of some to have no appreciation of metaphor and figurative language.

In the Gospel of Philip (one of the Nag Hammadi texts) we have the fragment of a text that says Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene and the others were jealous.[2] Note, the text does not say he kisses her mouth; the manuscript is deteriorated at that place. Immediately everyone tries to make this an issue of sexuality. Yet, in a similar text Jesus kisses James, the Just (his brother)! The kiss is clearly understood as a metaphor for passing on his teaching or knowledge.

I'm not certain why ever so often people will treat these second century gospels as if something new has been discovered that will totally undermine Christianity. Dan Brown's book is merely a rehashing of the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail written in the 80's. It seems every 15 to 20 years these old theories resurface as something new.

I'm really not complaining. Anything that gets people interested in investigating Jesus can't be all bad! If you are a Christ-follower, don't get too bent out of shape over The Da Vinci Code. Instead, listen to what your friends are saying. It is an open door to discuss the important matters of spirit and faith. If you are not a Christ-follower, please read the book and watch the movie. But don't let other people think for you (even me). Read these other gospels. Compare them with the Bible and see what you discover!

[1] It is instructive to observe how humble the writers of the canonical gospels are. They paint themselves as slow and at times hard-hearted. No one of them stands out as the paragon of knowledge or virtue. Contrast these with Nag Hammadi.

[2] Now why would the male disciples be jealous that Jesus kisses the female Mary? And please don't go in the obvious route! These gospels are not texts that defend homosexuality. If that is your agenda, you'd do yourself a favor to steer clear of the Nag Hammadi documents!

1 comment:

Dick said...

Excellent point about the obvious need for inauthentic texts about Jesus working so hard to establish credibility. The fact is that EVERYTHING about the canonical gospels is vastly superior to the apocryphal ones--the literary content, the documentary evidence, the extra-biblical evidence, the consistency, etc.
The only thing I might disagree with is your suggestion that the Da Vinci Code is not a major threat. By itself it might not be, but the media feeding frenzy is really unprecedented, and the presentation is sensational. For example, the trailer for DVC includes the tag, "Seek the Truth" and the editorial review for Michael Baigent's (Holy Blood, Holy Grail) new book, "The Jesus Papers" states unequivocally, "In The Jesus Papers, Michael Baigent reveals the truth about Jesus's life and crucifixion."
While I agree that the interest in Jesus appears to be high, that interest is primarily in destroying the truth of His divinity, reducing him to the "wise sage."
Of course, the media and the other conspiracy theorists neglect to point out that the various theories expounded by these people are often mutually exclusive. The tactic is obvious: create confusion. Satan and his followers are surely delighted at this, and it is amazing to see how many so-called Christians actually give credence to any of them.
I guess P.T. Barnum was right!